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Hazelwood Residents Excited About The Future But Concerned Their Neighborhood Plan Won't Be Binding

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA
About 50 Hazelwood residents broke into small groups to discuss the neighborhood plan and air their concerns.

Protection for current homeowners, affordable housing and job creation remain among the Hazelwood community’s primary concerns, especially as residents move forward with the neighborhood planning process that kicked off last month.

About 50 people gathered at the Spartan Center on Tuesday night for discussion of the plan, which is being spearheaded by the Greater Hazelwood Community Collaborative. The GHCC comprises 27 community groups, as well as city and state officials.

While the next two community meetings, slated for February and May, will seek input on various aspects of the plan, Tuesday night’s dinner and discussion were intended to answer residents' specific questions, said Sonya Tilghman, executive director of the nonprofit Hazelwood Initiative.

“We think there’s maybe some misinformation out there,” she said. “But also, we want to have an opportunity for people to talk.”

Attendees were encouraged to participate in one of five focus groups or join one of six action teams. The focus groups—renters, homeowners, youth ages 16 to 24, parents with school-aged children and seniors—will weigh in on aspects of the neighborhood plan as it progresses.

The action teams are organized around different themes—land and the built environment; mobility and transportation; community and economic development; the community’s vision; environmental sustainability; and art and cultural heritage—and will help implement the finished plan.

Several residents wondered exactly how binding a neighborhood plan is when a developer or investor proposes a project.

Alexander Phillips, the city's project planner, said it depends.

“There are certain circumstances which a developer would go before the city saying, ‘I would like to develop something.’ Now, if they do it within what is permissible by zoning, there’s only so much you can do,” Phillips said. “But if they seek any sort of exception or have any sort of ask, they would need the city to permit, then we would say, ‘Well, you need to talk with the community and you need to reference the community plan.’”

That’s where the action teams become important, said Dave Brewton, director of real estate for the Hazelwood Initiative. Brewton led one small discussion group.

“Those committees last beyond the plan, to make sure it happens,” he told attendees. “Mind you, it’ll be up to you to make it happen. If we don’t do it, who’s going to?”

Residents anticipate that development at the nearby 178-acre former brownfield, Hazelwood Green, will impact their neighborhood. Hazelwood Green is the rechristened name of Almono, which has been in development talks for years.

Juanita Godfrey has lived in Hazelwood her whole life. She said with all the changes coming to the neighborhood, she wants to stay informed and was glad to be able to discuss those concerns collectively.

“There’s a lot of revitalization going on. There’s a lot of investors coming in, you know, purchasing homes. You see new faces,” she said. “It’s exciting seeing our neighborhood come back to life.”

Compared to five years ago, home prices in the neighborhood have increased by about $20,000, said Brewton.

The Hazelwood Initiative is working to purchase real estate to create or expand spaces that serve the community. While the former Gladstone Middle School building is still tangled in litigation, Tilghman told residents that the intiative has to move forward; they expect to announce a partnership with a developer soon. HI also expects to acquire the YMCA building in early 2018.